DEFINE: The first step in NSPE's Strategic Plan

Brad Peterson, P.E., CFM, LEED AP is Vice President of Infrastructure at Crafton Tull. This article is the second in a series he wrote during his time as ASPE president in 2016.

In my first message as ASPE President, I addressed the need to implement the NSPE’s newly adopted Strategic Plan. The plan is made up of three basic tenets: DEFINE. PROMOTE. PROTECT. Just as the NSPE uses their national platform to raise awareness, I plan to use the space provided in this publication, to highlight each of these principles in greater detail. The first step to successful implementation is to DEFINE what it means to be a PE.

DEFINE: Comprehensive Education: In an effort to increase college graduation rates, many states have passed legislation lowering the minimum number of credits needed to obtain a bachelor’s degree to 120 hours. While this is a positive step for many areas of study, it may limit the experience of applying technical engineering knowledge prior to graduation. In certain States, such as Arkansas, minimum credit requirements may be raised to the national average, which is currently 128 hours for a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering. However, this still leaves a large gap between the 150 credit hour engineering degrees of the past. The NCEES recently released an updated position statement and NSPE is working through the process of amending professional policy language addressing the education requirements as they pertain to engineering licensure.  One of the primary initiatives is commonly referred to as the B.S.+30.  If adopted, candidates seeking licensure as professional engineers would be required to obtain an accredited bachelor’s degree in engineering as well as a minimum of 30 additional engineering focused credit hours.  Proponents believe implementation of this initiative would go a long way in defining the public’s understanding of what it takes to become a licensed engineer; much like the almost universal understanding that doctors are required to attend medical school and lawyers are required to attend law school before receiving the proper licensure to practice. A more primary goal of the B.S.+30 initiative, is to ensure those sitting for the exams required to become licensed professional engineers are equipped with technical experience needed for practice. Regardless of which side of the B.S.+30 debate you sit on, there needs to be recognition with the engineering community between the technical knowledge necessary for graduation and the experience necessary to perform as a Professional Engineer.

DEFINE: Code of Ethics/Order of the Engineer: As engineers, we have a significant impact on the safety and quality of life as a whole. Because of this, we are held to high ethical standards. The number one obligation listed under Fundamental Canons in the official NSPE Code of Ethics is: Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. Professional licensure ensures all PE’s are sworn to uphold a single code of ethics. Much in the way a comprehensive curriculum helps define the steps required to become licensed, a comprehensive code of ethics helps define the commitment engineers make to the public.

The Order of the Engineer follows the same premise as the Code of Ethics inasmuch as the goal of the Order is to “foster a spirit of pride and responsibility in the engineering profession, to bridge the gap between training and experience, and to present to the public a visible symbol identifying the engineer.”

In the same way the Hippocratic Oath instills confidence in patient – doctor relationships, the Order of the Engineer instills confidence in the relationships between engineers and those we serve. Unlike the Code of Ethics, The Order of the Engineer Obligation is not limited to licensed individuals, but is offered to engineering graduates at commencement and those working towards registration. Those of us who have take the Obligation of the Engineer share the common experience of wearing a stainless steel ring on the pinky finger of our working hand.

DEFINE: Professional Development: Another tool in establishing a single, unified definition of what it means to be a PE is setting comprehensive requirements when it comes to professional development and continuing education. Once the public is aware of the education needed to pursue licensure, as well as the code of ethics to be honored upon receiving licensure, the topic becomes more about what is required to maintain the integrity that comes with the licensure. It is not enough to take the exams and honor the oaths if we are not also dedicated to keeping abreast of new technologies and advancements within our field. It is vital to the public’s quality of life that engineers learn and grow as landscapes shift and change with the times. The more PE’s participate in speaking engagements and technical presentations, the greater the opportunity to establish the expertise so crucial to our industry. Through civic involvement, community outreach, and the requirement of CEUs, we are able to more clearly define the importance of professional licensure as it pertains to the safety of the projects we undertake.

Clear, comprehensive requirements will go a long way in defining our profession to the public. By focusing on increased compulsory education and professional development, members of NSPE can ensure engineering retains its position among the most trusted careers.